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The Tinkered Mind
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February 21st, 2019
Whether beginning a new habit or dismantling a long established bad habit, the earliest days are the worst.
An unlikely concept is exceptionally useful in this case: compound interest.
Generally compound interest is relegated to the financial world and how money if well placed can grow like a wild weed. Most middle school math programs will send home their pupils with the challenge to barter a new system of allowance with their parents.
One cent this month, and simply double each month. Next month 2 cents, and after a whole year a parent has only dished out $40.95
Seems like a deal, but just after three years, the allowance has risen to over a billion dollars.
This kind of trend is not intuitive for the human mind. There are few obvious examples of exponential trends in nature, at least not ones that we can notice on a timeline that makes the trend intuitive.
One day the milk looks fine, the next day it’s covered in a film of mold. Bacteria culture grows at a similar rate. But to us, the transition looks instantaneous.
This counter-intuitive trend can be both a benefit and a comfort when it comes to the formation of good habits and the shedding of bad habits.
The beginning of a compounding trend seems mind-numbingly slow.
As we saw with the smart child who breaks a compounding deal for allowance, only $40 is accrued in the first year of such a deal. Doesn’t seem like such a deal, but if we extend the timescale to cover a whole decade, the shift from $40 a year to Billions of dollars a year seems like it appears overnight, like that mold we find on the milk.
Kicking a bad habit is painful for weeks, but once we’ve compounded enough time, the succeeding days ease up faster and faster.
So too with good habits. That first month requires incredibly diligent attention, but after a few months, the habit of sitting down to meditate nearly makes itself happen. Or the habit of hitting the gym, or sitting down to write. Any of these good habits compound in terms of connections within the brain, and soon we have a habit that is robust beyond belief. Indeed it has not simply compounded through time but in the physical structure of our brain.
The early days always hurt, but everything after gets easier and easier regardless of the whether we institute that good habit or eschew the bad.
Simply knowing the fact can be all the difference. Early days do not last, but only if we keep at it and make those days the early ones in a long line of a new behavior.